Iron and Wine - Around the Well
Record Label: Sub Pop
Realease Date: May 19, 2009
Simplicity is bliss. Proving the old proverb to be a form of truth is Iron and Wine's latest effort, the B-sides and rarities album Around The Well. Haters beware! The album is full of the classic case of simple acoustic instrumentals, hushed vocals, sliding panel guitars, and all the lo-fi 4-track recording one can handle. There are 23 tracks of the same lovely crafted songs that made Samuel Beam, the mastermind behind the manifesto, famous or infamous depending on the venue. Either way, he's garnered quite a bit of attention over the years.
Around The Well is a two-disc release consisting of previously unreleased tracks previously recorded by Mr. Beam himself, and containing the same rigid, roughly produced yet insightfully composed songs for which he is known. The recording is broken into two different halves. The first half has the raw versions of songs recorded in the early stages of Beam's career around his first LP The Creek Drank The Cradle, among others of course. The second half consists of b-sides from cuts in the studio during sessions for Our Endless Numbered Days (2004) and The Shepherd's Dog (2007). As with all b-sides and rarities compilations, it leaves the listener either replying with "Why wasn't this on the original?" or "This is pretty good, but it's just a b-side". With Around The Well, the necessary response should emphatically be the former. The reason? If you have listened to the full Iron and Wine catalog, you'll understand why.
Starting with Disc One, which sounds like an extension of The Creek Drank The Cradle, the tracks don't differ much from this hypothesis. They're beautifully simple compositions of Beam's voice, an acoustic guitar, and a borrowed 4-track cassette recorder. This brief of an explanation, however, does not do it justice. Keep in mind, as with all of Iron & Wine's releases, they're paradoxical. Explanation: simply complex. There are no others off of the top of my head that can achieve this feat, at least from this generation. Anyway, the disc opens with "Dearest Forsaken," a darker song written with minor chords, but conveying a hopeful message. Ironic, I know. Then, immediately after the song "Morning," a notable track for the trademark, put the capo up high for a higher pitch-sound. Beautiful. Beam does not let up for the rest of the disc, nor the rest of the album. Disc One also has two cover tracks putting a spin on a couple notable songs "Waitin' For a Superman" (The Flaming Lips) and "Such Great Heights" (The Postal Service) previously released on the soundtrack for the movie The Garden State.
Disc Two opens with the most notable track on the entire compilation "Communion Cups And Someone's Coat," a two-minute whirlwind of complex acoustic chord progression and Beam's trademark whispered high alto. Since Disc Two consists of b-sides from studio sessions, there is a much more polished, cleaner sound that contrasts the earlier more frugal production from the first disc. "God Made The Automobile" is a bit of a different track with a more driving rhythm yet a sincere melody, opening with a maraca and harmonizing falsettos. The use of primitive instumentals guides the rhythm throughout the song. "Love Vigilantes" has influences of country mixed with acoustic-indie flair. Beam banishes poetic imagery for a more simple lyrical composition, telling a story using himself as the main character, a soldier coming home from war, but dying in the war, leaving his wife and children at home to read the telegram of his passing. All the while, Beam maintains a light composure throughout the song, not swaying his emotion to convey sadness which he does quite a bit.
Around The Well is quite a hefty listen with the number of tracks, you might be overwhelmed at first, but then you'll quickly learn that the two discs sound like two completely different LP's because they really are, they're just all conveniently in one package.